Chapter Six-A~Free Float (Indiv.)
The Home Pool


The Arm Stroke~~Instructor

As stressed in previous chapters, it's impossible to emphasize enough the importance of a proper floating position.

Good swim strokes are born from good floats. Those unable to maintain good floats will not achieve proper strokes. This is why it's unwise to teach arm strokes to anyone who has not yet mastered the float.

The only exceptions would be those with disabilties preventing them from floating with arms and legs straight and heads down. In these cases, you should go ahead and have them perform strokes as best they can, but you are not doing your other pupils any favors in teaching them strokes if they have not yet mastered good floats. Teaching the arm strokes first will only compound their errors as they try to compensate for their improper body positions that later on will be difficult habits to break.

For all pupils and especially the Water-Shy, it's never a good idea to overlook mistakes in an attempt to "make progress," for it takes much longer to rectify those errors after they become habitual.



1. Have class quickly warm up with some or all of the orientation tasks, or exercises of your choice.

2. Review the Floats To Partners and To Side at least 4 X for each pupil (See Chapter 5).

3. Review Floats With Kick and To Partners as in Chapter 5 at least 4 X for each pupil. Critique.

4. Have partners work with each other to perfect floats and critique.

When all or most have good Floats With Kick, proceed with Front Crawl stroke progressions. You may have someone ask why they must learn the Front Crawl before floating on their backs or other easier strokes. Simply explain that it's the basic stroke from which all others evolve. Once coordination for the Front Crawl is learned, pupils are more confident and have an easier time learning other strokes and movements in the water.


1--Have class stand so everyone can see you demonstrate the Front Crawl Arm Stroke.

2--While standing upright In waist deep water begin and explain the arm stroke movements as follows:

A--Say: "Arm is lifted up by the shoulder muscle."

B--"Elbow is bent and pointed upward."

C--"The Forward arm extension is next. This is the Arch and elbow does not straighten while hand is above water."

D--"Fingers are slightly separated."

E--"Hand enters water. This is the Dip and back of hand always faces front."

F--"When hand is well into water, arm begins to straighten."

G--"Thumb glides past thigh. "This is the Pull."

H--"At end of the Pull, arm is lifted upward and out of the water. "This is the Lift."


3--While standing erect and using their right arms, have class perform the Lift; Arch; Dip; and Pull with you, repeating each move aloud. At least 5 X.

4--Critique individually. If necessary, hold and guide pupils' elbows and wrists through the correct motions. Continue until all perform perfectly by themselves.

5--Have pupils perform correct strokes with their left arms until perfected.

6--Demonstrate alternating strokes. Stress importance of smooth movement. Show that one arm emerges from the water at the Lift as other arm begins the Dip. Class performs at least 6 X.

7--Class does alternating strokes with the Dip; Pull; Lift and Arch. Critique individually.

8--Show class how to WALK width of pool using alternating strokes. At least 2 X.

9--Have class line up at side and individually walk width of pool using alternating strokes. Critique each while performing the task.

Putting it all together

After pupils perform the Arch; Dip; Pull and Lift with alternate arms correctly, have them choose partners.
(As before, partner #1 stands 12 to 15 feet from side and partner #2 swims to #1. #1 swims to side, turns, then pushes off from side and swims back to #2. #2 then swims to side, and so forth)

1--Pupils perform Push from Side with Kick at least 2 X each. Partners critique.

2--Explain and demonstrate: Push from side; good float; Kick, then the Arm Stroke. At least 3 X. Stress the importance of getting a good float first, the kick next, and THEN the Stroke in that order. THEY MUST NOT TRY TO DO ALL THREE AT ONCE.

3--Have class perform Push from Side; good Float; Kick; and Arm Stroke to partner. Pupils perform continuously as you critique each individually.
See illustration below.


TOP: Right hand dips into water (the Dip), elbow slightly bent. Left elbow lifts up and out of water (the Lift).

MIDDLE: Left arm continues over top of water as right arm pulls back (the Pull) and elbow begins to straighten. By the time that right arm is parallel to the thigh it's straight but only an instant before bending and lifting up.

BOTTOM: Left hand goes deeper into water for the Pull as right arm begins the Lift.


In teaching adults, especially the Water-Shy, you' will find that most problems stem from a lack of confidence, ie; they generally perform without definitive movement. This is especially true with the Front Crawl Stroke.

If you have pupils who suffer from arthritis, bursitis or conditions that make it painful to lift up their arms, you may have them raise their arms less high. For the benefit of the rest of your class be certain to make it clear that such a stroke is less efficient.

(The most common errors are described first.)

1~~-Lack of Power in the Pull is often due to being unsure or fearful that a strong pull will result in loss of control. This may resemble a clawing motion which is also a shallow stroke.

REMEDY: Explain that hard pulls offer greater control while weak ones cause a loss of control. Direct pupils to deliberately exaggerate short, fast, clawing strokes; then have them practice long, slow ones. If they become aware of the difference in their strokes they will improve. You may also have them perform Birdy Hops pulling hard with BOTH hands. After they do about twenty such Hops and then immediately swim the Front Crawl they will have markedly improved the strength of their strokes..

Occasionally, short or ineffectual strokes will cause a swayback so that the lower half of the body will drag down in the water. Having these pupils round their shoulders or bend forward at the waist will help to elongate their strokes.

2~~-Lifting Arm Out of Water Too Soon. These pupils want to do everything fast. Over-anxiety is a fear reaction.

REMEDY: Explain that they must feel their thumbs touch their thighs before going into the Lift. Doing this is usually sufficient. Aside from physically moving pupils' arms correctly a few times, have them practice with a kickboard. Pupils push off with kickboard beneath one side of their head and an arm across board's length. Head is turned toward free arm so they can see their stroke. They may also try this while floating with a kickboard held at the end of an extended arm, but this takes practice as the board must not interfere with the arm that's performing the stroke, also they can't see their stroke because their faces would be in the water.

3~~Elbow Down During the Arch. This error forces the palm of hand to face front so that the heel of their hand, instead of fingers, will enter the water first. You can always spot this because the backs of their hands are not facing front.

REMEDY: Tell pupils that they are not getting power from their stroke--that it's ineffectual. Demonstrate correct hand entry and have them practice it while standing at pool side. Say that the elbow must ALWAYS point to the ceiling during the Lift.

4~~Reach Is Too Long. An over-extended reach causes loss of power because it's shallow. Arm will be straight over the water at the Dip. If not remedied, this can cause a habit of hooking.
(see hooking below)

REMEDY: Demonstrate right and wrong ways. Have pupil practice stroke correctly by standing at side or while walking width of pool.

5~~Hooking is the result of keeping arms straight (no arch) and out to far from the body during the above-water portion of the stroke. This is usually seen in men who have large chests. They fling their arms out to the side, then when hands come in to perform the Dip, they will cross the body's center line forming a "hook" configuration. They lose power in two ways. First, their pull is outward instead of along the body's length and secondly, such strokes are too shallow and very often extremely splashy with little or no control. Only through sheer strength, pupils may move fast with such a stroke, but much power is lost. This type of stroke is also annoying to others because of the splashing it causes.

REMEDY: Demonstrate the wrong and the correct stroke several times. Have them practice standing or walking using both correct and wrong strokes until they recognize the difference.

6~~Hands Not Lifted Out of Water. This looks as if pupils are moving hands back and forth under water. Whatever is gained by their backward motion is lost by pushing their hands forward, so pupils wonder why they aren't going anyplace.

REMEDY: Explain and demonstrate their problem. Have them practice while you walk alongside and lift up their arm at correct time, but explain to them FIRST what you are going to do. Make sure their head is well down in water. Most pupils with this problem are unaware that they are doing it incorrectly.

7~~Stroke Too Deep. If the stroke appears correctly over top of the water but pupils' bodies are going completely underwater, they are probably taking too deep a catch. Instead of pulling the underwater portion of their strokes along the sides of their body they are lifting up, thus pulling themselves downward. If they continue like this they will never be able to learn rhythmic breathing.

REMEDY: Explain, demonstrate and tell them to slide the side of their hands past thighs during the underwater portion of their stroke.

8~~Arms Too Far Out From Body. I call this the "out-rigger" effect. Those who swim with a wide stroke feel safer this way as they can keep their balance better. Overweight people have a tendancy do this in order to prevent tipping from side to side.

REMEDY: Explain that a stroke closer to the body gives more power and their forward momentum will keep them from tipping. Demonstrate right and wrong ways and have them practice both to recognize the difference.

9~~Crossing Over. Sometimes the stroke is good except for the Dip. Instead of their Dip being straight from the shoulder some pupils cross over putting the Dip in front of their heads.

REMEDY: Explain, demonstrate. Have pupils wear hand paddles if available. It's not easy to cross over while wearing them. Hand paddles are also good for those who do a Dip with heel of their hand first instead of the fingers.

10~~Veering Out. This is the opposite of Crossing Over. If Pull is too wide even though arms come in close to the body after the Dip, power is lost because the Pull is coming INTO the body instead of going down the body's LENGTH.

REMEDY: Explain, demonstrate and have pupils practice correct and straight stroke as suggested in above list.

11~Going Crooked. If pupils perform the Float With Kick going straight, but not with the Stroke, they are probably pulling harder with one arm than the other. They may also be turning their head or body to one side.

REMEDY: Have pupils practice stroke while standing in place striving for even pull, then practice with partner.

12~~Waist Rotation: Some pupils twist their waists when doing the Front Crawl Stroke for the first time. A certain amount is alright, but too much rotation prevents forward motion.

REMEDY: Have pupils walk across width of pool performing the stroke with eyes fixed on a distant object straight ahead. Check if they twist. Explain and demonstrate keeping torso facing front. Have them practice with a partner.

There are sure to be other mistakes and combinations of stroke errors you will find that are not covered here. It's important to study your pupils' problems and apply corrective measures similar to the above suggestions before they become difficult habits to break.

Chapter Seven~The Yoga Concept
The Home Pool